Modern Masters: Cliff Chiang

I know a little about how these books are put together. Selection of a “master” depends on expected sales (of course), so they have to have an existing fanbase; whether the subject is willing to participate, to get all the historical art and sketchbook pages; along similar lines, possession of a substantial body of work; being a “name” to the comic market (so most often, some superhero work history); and apparently, a Y chromosome. I started thinking about this, because Cliff Chiang still seems like a new talent to me, but he’s been contributing to significant comic works longer than I realized. I adore his style, and a whole book dedicated to his art was a pleasure to read.

I found it fascinating that Cliff got into comics seriously in the early 90s, and how his significant scholastic background influenced his art. These kinds of career development make for a different story than many of the other Modern Masters I’ve read — who tend to be much older creators and/or British — and younger aspiring creators will learn more from a more recent tale, I think. That background also makes him thoughtful about looking back and explaining his history to the reader, particularly with his different early career expectations.

Even though Cliff is from a more recent generation, I’m not sure his path is available any more, since he started out working on short stories, one-shots, and backups, aided by his connections from his time as an editorial assistant. Once reminded, I recalled reading a lot of his early work that had slipped from my memory in the meantime. So many books, with so many varied approaches, that were so good and yet couldn’t exist today: Beware the Creeper, Human Target, an Elseworlds, The Spectre (as a Gotham Central spinoff), Doctor 13, Green Arrow and Black Canary (as a married couple), and the lost Batman stories he describes.

I pored over this Modern Masters a lot more than I have other volumes in the series. Much of that is due to Chris Arrant’s excellent interviewing, going into details without sounding slavish. I found this response particularly telling. When asked whether he was “more attuned to the DC characters”, given most of his work has been for that company, Cliff responds:

It’s not a question of interest in the characters, it’s just that career-wise, having good working relationships is more important to me than drawing, say, Spider-Man or Superman. It’s not the company or the characters, it’s the quality of the script and the quality of the people you work with.

That’s so important and so insightful, and something not a lot of people pay enough attention to. However, there’s one major area of questioning I was immensely curious about that wasn’t asked in the book: When will Cliff write and draw his own work? Does he plan to take that on, or is he satisfied drawing other people’s stories for now? What concerns does he have tackling telling his own stories?

There are preview pages at the publisher’s website, and the book is half-off until the end of the month, which is a terrific deal. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

12 Responses to “Modern Masters: Cliff Chiang”

  1. Modern Masters: Cliff Chiang « Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson, […]

  2. Chris Arrant Says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it, Johanna.

  3. Damjan Says:

    I’m still pouring over it but am enjoying the book too. I agree, Chris Arrant does a wonderful job.

    Regarding Cliff doing his own work, Cliff mentions on page 75 that he feels the “siren call of creating my own book”, and talks about how he’d like more freedom to put himself into the work, as if he was building something for himself.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Yes, that’s the only reference in the book to the subject. I don’t know how the interview was conducted, and certainly I don’t want to assume whether a question was asked and/or answered, but I wish there had been more information about that topic.

  5. James Schee Says:

    Ooh that sounds great as I love Chiang’s work and thes books have always been insightful. They are available digital?

  6. Johanna Says:

    Yes, you can buy digital editions from the publisher’s website. They’re discounted right now, too.

  7. Mike Says:

    One of the factors that led to my no longer buying comics as a young man and which dissuades me from buying more comics today is the general decline in the quality of the artwork. Cover art has increased in quality, but interior art has incorporated any number of ugly, scratchy, anime influenced, child-like styles that repel my eyes. I cannot look at them. And Chiang’s art is of that type–not anime influenced, but unpleasant to look at and at times amateurish in appearance. I like the character of Wonder Woman, but the Chiang art on the issues he’s drawn for has kept me away.

  8. Johanna Says:

    Wow, that’s an excellent example of just how much opinions can differ. I can’t conceive of anyone calling Chiang’s strong lines “scratchy” or “amateurish”. I don’t know if you’ll be back, given your dislike of the topic, but I’m curious to know what you consider the best comic artists working today.

  9. Mark Says:

    I like Chiang’s art, but to Mike’s point, there does seem to be a lot of aping of Chiang and Allred’s style and a more cartoony, manga’esque style in general as opposed to say the style of artists from the Bronze Age like Andru, Wrightson, Colan, Adams, etc. Perhaps this is a good thing as it seems women who read superhero comics seem drawn to that style and I’ve seen plenty of articles about how women artists can’t break into superhero comics because their style is “too cartoony” and not the house style. It’s not my cup of tea as I hate just about anything that looks remotely like manga. But I do like Chiang and Allred, just not a fan of all the others trying to mimic them.

  10. Johanna Says:

    If I had to guess at Chiang’s influences, it would be Alex Toth (who has that same deceptive simplicity of style), not manga. Stuart Immonen similarly has a less-detailed approach. My point being, I think people are too quick to yell “manga” and “I hate it” without realizing the long tradition of such streamlined approaches within superhero comics themselves.

  11. Mark Says:

    I don’t really see anything like Toth when I look at Chiang’s art but that doesn’t mean Toth wasn’t an influence. Amanda Conner has said many times that Joe Kubert was her primary influence but when I look at Conner’s art(which I also like) it doesn’t look remotely like Kubert. My point is that an artist’s “influence” rarely is reflected in their art.

    All of which makes me wonder why there is no Modern Masters volume for Conner.

  12. Johanna Says:

    Good question. She’s already had an art book from IDW, though, so maybe she doesn’t want too many. :)




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